Drones currently have many uses on construction sites, but this technology is in the early stages of development within the industry. They currently provide development and construction teams with overhead views of job sites, creating images and videos to help optimize everything from grading plans to identifying differences between the as-designed and as-built plans. Current users of drones are primarily hobbyists, but as the technology and regulations evolve, they could play a major factor within the construction industry.
Drone Pre-Construction Applications
Drones can help with pre-construction services such as surveying and 3D mapping of the site, especially in areas that are inaccessible or hazardous. They can also help the design team to understand the project site and to locate items such as utilities and overhead power lines that might not be ascertainable from the ground. In addition to cameras, drones can be equipped with technologies such as LiDar (Light Detection and Ranging) to create a detailed topographical survey of the site in densely wooded areas.
Prior to starting work, drones can provide useful information in creating a Site Preconditions report. A bird’s eye view of the site with images and video can record the existing conditions of the site and neighboring sites. Recording the existing conditions of items such as roads and streets, sidewalks, and equipment can mitigate costly disputes later in the construction process. In conjunction with additional software, drones can also be used to calculate the cut and fill amounts on the site to determine the amounts of material to exported and imported.
Drone Uses During Construction
Construction drones have the potential to improve efficiencies and safety on sites by creating photos that overlay with the construction drawings to clarify that the items such as buildings, utilities, site concrete, and ponding areas are in the correct positions. Video and photos can instantly help determine if there are any issues with the site logistics to help predict and prevent bottle necks and safety concerns. Images can also be shared with the design team and owners who may not be located near the site to share progress reports and answer Requests For Information (RFIs).
Uses for construction drones in the future may help eliminate the use of items such as scaffolding and cranes. For example, Stephanie Chaltiel from MuDD Architects has implemented drone technology for painting the exterior of structures. This becomes especially useful in conditions where scaffolding is difficult to access and erect or irregular shaped geometry.
In the future, the expense and time needed to mobilize and erect an expensive crane may be reduced or eliminated, especially for lighter loads and specialty items.
Worker safety is a top priority for Shingobee. In the construction industry as a whole, falls account for up to 39% of worker fatalities. When taking manual measurements, workers often must climb to unsteady heights and navigate around hazardous conditions. Drones can replace workers in these situations for tasks like inspections of equipment and buildings, which are typically done from cranes and roof tops, and mitigate the risks construction workers face in the field.
Post-Construction Uses for Drones
Post construction, drones can be used to help create a site and building conditions report, or “as built” documents to document changes and modifications to the original construction documents. These documents can also help prove the condition of the project at turn-over for items such as warranty claims in the future. Additional technology such as thermal imaging cameras can be attached to the drone to help detect or troubleshoot leaks or cracks in the building envelope at the completion of the project.
According to Mike Winn, founder and CEO of startup DroneDeploy, automation is the next step in the evolution of drone technology. Soon self-driving drones will be programmed to fly a consistent path on their own, even taking off, landing, and charging themselves. Soon, drones in autonomous docks will be seen on construction and oil and gas sites. Today, drones are well known as data capture devices, but in the future, we will see them perform the full lifecycle: capturing data, analyzing this information, and then acting on it. Winn says we will see agriculture drones crop scout huge fields, detect weeds and other issues, and follow up by sending commands to drones that can spray a herbicide. The evolution of Artificial Intelligence and improved algorithms will make drones not just more useful, but critical in the supply chains across almost every industry in the economy.
In construction, we are just beginning to realize the ways that drones can assist the work and help to keep workers safe by performing tasks that are risky for a person to perform. There will be many more uses in the future for this expanding new technology.